Labor Practices: Header

Labor Practices


Labor Practices: Intro

The decade following the war marked an era of growth and record profits for the steel industry. U.S. Steel presented its growing body of photographic work in public relations literature that focused on professional opportunities for those returning home from the war. Paths of Opportunity in U.S. Steel, for example, published in 1947, highlighted careers at the company for prospective employees with college degrees primarily in engineering, science, and business. The brochure explained that “paths of opportunity in U.S. Steel offer the competent and ambitious college graduate[,] who may be selected for employment, work in which his chief interests and aptitudes can come into focus. And the constant search . . . for men of ability to fill positions of responsibility, assures him of recognition when he is ready for advancement.”31 The publication featured photographs of men engaged or receiving training in a variety of professional positions within the company from engineering to sales.32

Labor Practices: Slider

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United States Steel Corporation. Paths of Opportunity in U.S. Steel. [New York?]: United States Steel Corporation, c. 1947. Courtesy of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


U.S. Steel Annual Report, 1946. Corporate Reports Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

Demonstration of downward course of gasoline fumes to open hearth workers, Gary Works, Gary, Indiana.

U.S. Steel Annual Report, 1953. Corporate Reports Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School.

American Steel & Wire. Welcome. New Haven: American Steel & Wire, [1956?].

American Steel & Wire. Welcome. New Haven: American Steel & Wire, [1956?].

Labor Practices: Body

By 1946, the total number of women employed by U.S. Steel dropped by more than half from its wartime high of 44,000.33 While the corporation’s book Steel in the War, published in 1946, presented photographs of women in a variety of production positions, the absence of any reference to women in text or photographs in Paths of Opportunity in U.S. Steel only a year later reveals how quickly the role of women and their possible advancement diminished in the corporation. In the ensuing years, the annual reports and major corporate publications included relatively few images of women in the workforce. Women were increasingly represented, however, in the role of consumer using steel products in the home.

African Americans, who constituted a significant part of the labor force, were often assigned the most difficult jobs in labor with little possibility for promotion. “The problem was not that steel companies did not hire blacks, but that steel firms did not promote their black employees,” historian John Hinshaw writes. “African American men languished at the bottom of the occupational ladder at a rate twice that of white men.”34 No photographs of African Americans appeared in Paths of Opportunity in U.S. Steel, and few images of African American employees are seen in U.S. Steel corporate literature in the 1940s and 1950s.

During intensifying post-war labor strikes, steel workers demanded higher pay and better working conditions and health benefits. U.S. Steel responded with a core public relations objective to “tell the public the true facts about working conditions and labor policies in operating plants, thus attracting the most desirable employees in the organization.”35 Absent from the photographic record are images of labor disputes and the harsh reality of working conditions in a steel plant—an otherworldly place of coke furnaces, molten steel, and sweltering heat. Nowhere in the corporate literature does one find pictures depicting the living conditions employees often endured in steel mill towns, where soot billowing out from plant smokestacks covered streets and homes.36



Fritz Henle. Grievance Committee meeting with union workers and company officials, Homestead District Works, Munhall, Pennsylvania.

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Photographs commissioned by U.S. Steel, instead, highlighted the safety precautions undertaken on behalf of workers, the number of accident-free days at U.S. Steel plants, and the general contentment of employees. In one photograph, two smiling employees stand before a safety bulletin stating: “Over 1,000,000 hours without a lost time accident.” Another image documenting employees’ rights to file complaints captured management and union representatives together at a grievance committee meeting. Pictures of baseball games and other leisure activities enjoyed by U.S. Steel employees conveyed an esprit de corps among workers.



Lunchtime softball game, Geneva Steel Plant, Geneva, Utah.

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The corporation used these images in its annual reports and corporate publications to affirm U.S. Steel’s concern for the health and safety of its workers, to build employee loyalty, and to stave off unionization efforts. Employee magazines, an increasingly popular genre after the war, helped foster a sense of belonging to a family-like organization where a strong connection existed between workers and their managers and executives. U.S. Steel News, for example, employed a more informal, vernacular approach in its use of text and photographs.37 Close-up images of employees involved in steel production and research spotlighted the contributions and profiles of individual workers, often noting families with multiple generations who had served the corporation.

Local outreach supported U.S. Steel’s mission “to foster and support programs for civic progress in every plant community, thus winning a more favorable opinion among both employees and customers.”38 Within individual PR districts offices, U.S. Steel could create a sense of pride and loyalty among employees and the public as well as bridge communications between plant personnel and the community. J. Carlisle MacDonald outlined this PR strategy in his brochure titled And Be Neighbourly with techniques for reaching employees and local groups.39 Programs such as the “Open House” included plant tours and accompanying souvenir booklets illustrating the production capabilities and products of various U.S. Steel subsidiaries.

The souvenir booklet Welcome featured close-up photographs of employees undertaking a variety of production operations in the American Steel & Wire New Haven Works plant. Measuring 5 ½ by 8 inches (smaller than the company’s general interest publications or annual reports), the spiral-bound, 36-page-booklet offered an intimate, insider’s view of the range of plant operations carried out by its employees. The booklet’s copy explained that photographs were intended to portray members of the corporation’s New Haven Works subsidiary “family at their appointed tasks and to indicate provisions to safeguard their health and to provide opportunities for their welfare.”40 Photographs and text thus served to humanize U.S. Steel as a caring, family-oriented enterprise and affirm that the success of the local industrial plant also affected the social and economic welfare of the wider community.

Labor Practices: Footnotes

31 United States Steel Corporation, Paths of Opportunity in U.S. Steel [New York?] (United States Steel Corporation, c. 1947), 22.

32 An increase in management positions coincided with the teaching of factory management at Harvard Business School and other business programs across the country.

33 Through the mid-1950s women continued to represent approximately six percent of the work force. See United States Steel Corporation Annual Report, 1944, 7; United States Steel Corporation Annual Report, 1946, 13–14; and United States Steel Corporation Annual Report, 1954, 17.

34 John Hinshaw, Steel and Steelworkers: Race and Class Struggle in Twentieth-Century Pittsburg (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 127.

35 W. Everett McLaine, district director of public relations, Pittsburgh District, for the Management Candidate-Company Indoctrination Program at Homestead District Works, Tuesday, February 10, 1953, in F. Rhodes Henderer, A Comparative Study of the Public Relations Practices in Six Industrial Corporations: United State Steel Corporation, Aluminum Company of America, The Westinghouse Corporation, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, Koppers Company, Dravo Corporation. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1956), 95.

36 See Ellie Wymard, Talking Steel Towns: The Men and Women of America’s Steel Valley (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007).

37 U.S. Steel News was launched in 1936. See Marchand, Creating the Corporate Soul, 226–227.

38 McLaine in Henderer, A Comparative Study of the Public Relations Practices in Six Industrial Corporations: United State Steel Corporation, Aluminum Company of America, The Westinghouse Corporation, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, Koppers Company, Dravo Corporation, 95.

39 J. Carlisle MacDonald, And Be Neighbourly (New York: United States Steel Corporation, 1951).

40 American Steel & Wire, Welcome (New Haven: American Steel & Wire Division, United States Steel Corporation, [1956]), 5.

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